Horn Rim Heroes: Making the Case for Those Thick Glasses

A friend recently asked me whether or not thick, horn-rimmed glasses would be good for him or if they had become passé. Since the powerful influence of Mad Men‘s style started creeping into the mainstream, inspiring men even in the furthest reaches of the urban sprawl to go skinny on the ties and lapels, the unlikeliest of men have joined the Thick Rim Glasses Club membered by icons like Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Cary Grant, Buddy Holly, Swifty Lazar, Lew Wasserman, Robert Evans, the cast of Mad Men and any average Joe from the mid ’60s through the mid ’70s.

Men’s eyewear was good then. The frames were dark, angular and decidedly masculine. They were strong, yet elegant. Then, in the ’70s, when the wheels came off a lot of better style judgment, they became associated with old men, chemistry teachers and nerds.

But through the uncool nerd era of thick-rimmed wayfarer glasses, there were men who stuck to their guns, long ago adopting them as a fully integrated part of their public image. Back in 1995, long before Matthew Weiner created Lane Pryce and Harry Crane – a time when thick frames weren’t necessarily on the hipster radar, I met director Tim Burton, who was rocking a pair of the most genius horn rims I have seen to this day. Thick, angular, handsome frames with smoked lenses with a slightly blue tint. Beautiful.

From left to right, starting at the top: Cary Grant, Lew Wasserman, Buddy Holly, Michael Caine, Swifty Lazar, Jared Harris as Lane Pryce, Jack Nicholson, Tim Burton, Joe Hubrich.

About two years ago, friend and makeup artist Joe Hubrich found a great pair of big, thick glasses and made a clear decision to make them part of his increasingly public look. The glasses are huge, putting two, thick-rimmed, TV screen-sized lenses on his face. Joe has fully committed to them, and the effect is hilarious, decadent and wonderful.

On a more common man level, my own father, who wasn’t necessarily working the uber-thick Wasserman frames, always wore some variant of a large, thick, tortoise, square-lensed frame. From his early thirties until his death at age 53, the glasses had become such an identified, iconic, fully-integrated part of his public image. They were part of his face.

Yours truly, in my horn rims. Photo by Rob Mandolene.
Yours truly, in my horn rims. Photo by Rob Mandolene.

We tend to give artists and celebrities a broader license to take bolder style risks than the average person is willing to take. Perhaps timidity or fear inspires the “He looks awesome, but I could never wear that” phenomenon. The Mad Men effect has reminded older generations and shown younger generations that the 1960s were a golden age of design: furniture, cars, gadgetry and menswear, including eyewear – much of which has not been bettered since. Regular guys have been given the green light to dip into an aesthetic that their neat and funky artist friends have known about for ages.

As with all trend explosions, the fire will go out and the dust will settle. A lot of guys will shed their wayfarer frames and skinny ties and move on to the next trend or retreat to a safer comfort zone. What will remain unscathed among the casualties will be tried and true style standards and the real, aged-in-wood die hards who hold on to a signature look, no matter how eccentric. What makes it work is something that trend victims and tourists don’t have: commitment, confidence and unapologetic conviction.

My point is, to my friend and to the reader, if there is something that has always appealed to you, something well-chosen, something you really love – whether it’s suits, cowboy hats, unique sneakers, bowties, black mock turtlenecks, or badass eyewear from the glorious 1960s – wear it, own it and thoroughly make it your own. Fully commit, carry it with confidence and the look is yours.



  1. Love thick-rimmed glasses. The Army just started issuing these (along with rectangular wire frames) again after a prolonged period of only vomit-colored glasses. The new thick-rimmed are more á la Drew Carey’s, understated and classic.

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